By: Fernando Hermida.
The sun was barely licking the desert and the sand was already boiling the horizon. We were on our way to an uncertain place in California. Next to us in the immigration service bus was a Russian family that during the days of confinement had not been able to communicate verbally with anyone except with signs and gestures. They were traveling with two children, one of them a six-month-old baby. Other families were also traveling: some Cubans, still rejoicing from their encounter; another family of Haitians, still sleepy; three Nicaraguans… The landscape outside was not inspiring at all: thousands of kilometers of barren, ochre land, asleep, boiling.
Suddenly, something started to go wrong. My little girl, the one with the name of sky, began to boil as much as the desert. Her fever was high to the touch although we had no way of checking it; she had collapsed on her mother’s lap and had lost her mood. We quickly wet the sleeve of one of the sweaters we were wearing and began to use it as a compress. We had run out of water to drink and no one had told us where we were going or how long the trip would last. The cell phones, recently returned, were sleeping without batteries. Suddenly, the bus began to climb a steep hill and we noticed that the air conditioning began to disappear. The heat was scorching inside. The Russian mother had found a piece of cardboard to fan her baby as their faces reddened from the steam. The Haitian children were crying with no consolation. The other Cuban mother approached the transparent plastic that separated us from the bus driver and tried to be heard, knocked on the plastic and shouted: no feedback. The driver seemed to be driving alone, on a trip without passengers. I began to sweat copiously, I was nervous. Grim ideas began to emerge from my exhausted head, ideas that I did not dare to share with my family: what if this is fascist strategy to get rid of us in the middle of the desert, what if in a few moments poisonous gas could begin to flow. The truth was that we were still locked up in a bus without windows and with an embracing heat.
Luckily the downhill slope of that mountain triggered the air conditioning back on and we finally could breathe easy. It was then that we arrived at the interstate border between Arizona and California and they made us get off the buses and walk to an immigration service station to have a snack and use the bathroom. They also gave us a mandatory anti-covid 19 test but luckily, we were healthy. My little girl, now better, rewarded us with a shy smile. A few minutes later we boarded another bus, more comfortable and better equipped, whose driver finally informed us that we were on our way to the city of Indio in California. Outside the desert still looked unwelcoming, but we were able to get some rest for the next few hours of the journey to our first stop on free land.
In the small town of Indio, we were taken to a small hotel where we welcomed by young volunteers from a Catholic NGO in the Coachella Valley, just outside Los Angeles. That place gave us the best welcome, the best moment we had experienced in the last few weeks. We were able to rest, at last. They helped us with new clothes and food. We were able to charge our cell phones and our families were finally able to hear from us after several days without news. The next day the young men took us to the nearest airport to begin our final journey. First we made a stopover in San Francisco and from there to Orlando, almost nine hours of travel that swallowed the last reserves of effort we had left. During the flight to Florida I tried to distract myself by watching the news and learned for the first time about the Ubalde massacre, tragic news that was also part of the human landscape that also welcomed us. At the Orlando airport we were greeted by my family with balloons and hugs. We all cried together. It seemed that the whole trip was over, but it was only the beginning of a long journey towards a future that we would have to start building, definitively, for all of us.